The TRiO Student Support Services program is a federal-funded organization that helps the most at-risk members of our student body through the difficulties of the college experience until receiving their associate degree.
The program recently received a $1.5 million grant from the department of education that ensures it can continue to serve 200 students a year through August of 2020. Students who are first in the family to attend college, meet federal financial guidelines, and students with disabilities are eligible to receive assistance. 97 students have been recruited to take advantage of the program this fall semester, said Program Director Jonathan Morrell.
Operating the support center is a labor of love for Morrell, he said. It take dozens of hours to complete the writing process. After that, he waits six months to get a response, but he said the extra effort is worthwhile.
TRiO operates without any community or institutional financial support. Without the federal funding, its doors would have closed this week.
“A lot of weekends and a lot of nights,” Morell said. But without it, “this program would be done.”
A grant is written and scored based on needs, objectives, plan of operations, institutional resources, quality of personnel, budget and evaluations. Over a five-year period of time, if the program meets its objectives each year, the maximum points will be assigned. Additionally, an extra 15 points was given based on experience, which was enough to give the program a score of 106 and place it in the top tier of schools and ensure funding this cycle, Morell said.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, the TRiO Student Support Services program was established in 1964 to “provide academic and other support services to low-income, first-generation, or disabled college students to increase students’ retention and graduation rates, facilitate their transfer from two-year to four-year colleges, and foster an institutional climate supportive of success.” It has been part of Dixie State University’s campus since the 1980s.
According to statistics from the department of education, students who successfully complete the program are nearly twice as likely to finish their degrees. In fact, since Morell began tracking progress in 1989, nearly 70 percent have graduated. He said he often hears back from former students, appreciative of their time at DSU, and the values and lessons they gained from the service.
Personal tutoring is offered in a wide variety of subjects.
“We help them get through the classes they don’t necessarily need to get hung up on,” said Reuben Morrell, junior and TRiO tutor.
It also serves as a valuable networking center between older and younger students to help them choose their class schedules and find instructors they can relate to well.
A small team of three advisers meet with students throughout the semester to assist them with educational planning and tracking their progress. They also help with financial planning and coordinating with DSU’s financial aid office to ensure they receive the maximum assistance offered.
Throughout the year, the staff witnesses students developing personally, socially and academically, but the greatest reward comes from seeing students complete the program.
“Graduation is the best day of the year for us,” said Jonathan Morrell. “It is the highlight of the year.”
The staff at TRiO have learned through experience that once a student gets through the first two years of the program, he or she has gained the knowledge and skills necessary to finish a bachelor’s or master’s degree and move on to rewarding careers.